Unlike the circumstances we discussed with the Revolution's defense, the midfield for New England has far more question marks than one might expect heading into this off-season. The players who are "safe" will be pretty obvious. But, for all the "depth" that New England boasted this season, there certainly seems room to tinker and upgrade in certain areas.
New England's midfield duo of Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe isn't going anywhere and, if anything, deserve a raise heading into 2014. Together, Nguyen and Rowe tallied 11 goals and 15 assists, making them one of the most dynamic and effective attacking midfield pairings in MLS. Building upon their 2013 success next year will surely be a focal point of Jay Heaps' preseason plans. Again, they're not going anywhere. Enough said.
Likewise, Scott Caldwell, the enigmatic homegrown midfielder who came out of nowhere to lay claim to the defensive midfield position, is expected to be a big part of the Revs' 2014 plans as well. Caldwell, however, was not without his share of critics this past season. As we've harped on plenty this year, his size (or lack thereof) is the biggest disadvantage he has, and there were plenty of games this season where the Revolution could have benefited from a physical enforcer in the midfield instead of the small-framed Caldwell.
If Heaps and his staff want to keep Caldwell at the top of their defensive-midfielder depth chart, then he is going to have his work cut out for him this off/preseason as he'll no doubt be instructed to hit the weight room in order to bulk up for 2014. He'll need to adjust his game as well, forcing himself to take on the first ball rather than trying to guess and wait for the second. Caldwell is a work in progress, certainly, but his spot on this Revolution's roster is definitely not in doubt.
After these three players, I honestly don't think that I could say with 100% confidence that anyone else would be back next season. And that's why I've got just about every other midfielder on "the bubble".
If there's one player who deserves to be on the Revolution's 2014 roster it's Ryan Guy. Yes, frequent readers will know that I'm a pro-Guy guy and pretty much always have been. But, realistically, Guy is an affordable utility player with soccer smarts and a veteran's lead-by-example attitude. He can play pretty much anywhere in the midfield, including out on the wing, and can play right-back in a pinch (though we'd like to find a way to prevent that as much as possible moving forward). Guy had his share of nagging injuries in 2013 which probably contributed to his lack of playing time in the latter half of the season, but he is still someone who knows how to push those in front of him for time (when healthy), and when he is playing, he's a workhorse on the pitch for the full 90 minutes.
As for defensive midfielders, Clyde Simms and Andy Dorman's respective fates seem to be up in the air. Dorman might have played himself into a roster spot for his performances at the very end of the season alone. His games against the Columbus Crew to finish out the regular season were crucial, and he showed that he is still a capable MLS midfielder. I'm willing to bet that Heaps and his staff will be bringing back Andy for at least another season.
I can't say the same for Clyde Simms, though. Simms' days might be numbered in Foxborough. And while he was a big part of what New England did the season before, he seemed to fall out of favor in 2013. It won't surprise me if the Revolution look to the re-entry draft, the Superdraft, or even abroad to find a new defensive midfielder that is perhaps a bit more physical but still a proficient, creative passer. Caldwell is still young and I could very much see Heaps using him as a situational player or as 2nd string at both the defensive midfield and attacking midfield positions.
One midfielder that I feel is as good as gone is Juan Toja. Toja, who started the season behind the striker for the first few games, quickly fell down the depth chart as others seized their opportunities and as the formation shifted around Nguyen and Rowe. The Colombian had a sense of flair and unpredictability that seemed to work well at times, but he was ultimately a step too slow on the attack and was one of the least clinical finishers we had on roster all season. With his American citizenship now in tow, Toja is an ideal candidate to trade elsewhere in the league, and that's exactly what I'd expect the Revolution front office to try to do this off-season.
That leaves us with rookies Donnie Smith and Gabe Latigue. Smith kicked off his professional career with a surprise start against the Chicago Fire, which he earned after a favorable preseason with his new team last winter. His first year, however, lasted all of 53 minutes before he was subbed off. He didn't see any first team minutes outside of the U.S. Open Cup after that. Smith, however, avoided the Rochester Rhino loan deal that his fellow rookie Gabe Latigue was handed. If you ask me, Smith could fit well into Heaps' new hybrid 4-3-3 formation. As a true left-winger, Smith could occupy the flank opposite Diego Fagundez--he's got pace, 1-on-1 skills, and a nose for goal. This just might be in the technical staff's future plans for him, which is why I think he'll stick around for another season. If this is the plan, though, he'll need to work on pinching in and swapping wings if he wants to assimilate into the system a bit better. Then again, I'm basing that off of what I saw last March. He might be ahead of the curve already and we just don't know it.
For Latigue, the jury is out. His future may largely depend on how he responds to his rehabilitation after he had surgery on a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee. Latigue had an impressive preseason last year and showed off his superb dead-ball skills while out in Arizona. Furthermore, he had a successful season while on loan to Rochester as well. Latigue also started as an attacking midfielder against the New York Red Bulls in U.S. Open Cup play and put together a pretty nice game as I recall. He could stick around as a cheap understudy to Nguyen or Rowe.
For the rookies, my brain tells me that there's room for both of them on the 2014 Revolution squad. But my gut tells me that one of them will be gone. Which of them that might be, though, is a total toss-up.
My predicitons for off-season roster moves:
Staying - Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, Scott Caldwell, Andy Dorman, Donnie Smith, Gabe Latigue
Going - Clyde Simms, Juan Toja
What do you think? Who will be sticking around in 2014 and who will be shown the door this winter? Do you think Donnie Smith has a future in New England more than Juan Toja? And what of the calm-minded presence of Clyde Simms? Has the aging MLS veteran missed the boat for the re-tooled Revolution? Let us know in the comments section below!